Greta Nissen

Greta Nissen (born Grethe Rüzt-Nissen, 30 January 1906 – 15 May 1988)[1] was a Norwegian-American film and stage actress.

Greta Nissen
Nissen in 1931
Grethe Rüzt-Nissen

(1906-01-30)January 30, 1906
DiedMay 15, 1988(1988-05-15) (aged 82)
Spouse(s)Weldon Heyburn (m.1932annulled 1936)
Stuart D. Eckert (m.1941)

Stage and screen actress

Born Grethe Rüzt-Nissen in Oslo, Norway, Nissen was originally a dancer. She debuted as a solo ballerina on the National Theatre in 1922. She toured in Norway and appeared in several Danish films.

Nissen made her Broadway debut as a ballerina in 1924. She had studied ballet with Mikhail Fokine. In early 1924, she came as a member of a Danish ballet troupe to New York, where she was soon hired to do a larger dance numbers for George S. Kaufman in the musical Beggar on Horseback.[2] Greta was discovered by film producer Jesse L. Lasky of Paramount Pictures, and would appear in more than twenty films.

She appeared in The Wanderer (1925, director Raoul Walsh). Among her other films were Lost: A Wife, The King on Main Street, The Love Thief, Ambassador Bill, The Lucky Lady, and Honours Easy.

Nissen was cast as Helen, the female lead in Hell's Angels, originally conceived as a silent, principal photography began on October 31, 1927 with interiors shot at the Metropolitan Studio in Hollywood.[3] Midway through production, the advent of the sound motion picture came with the arrival of The Jazz Singer. Director Howard Hughes incorporated the new technology into the half-finished film, but Nissen became the first casualty of the sound age, due to her pronounced Norwegian accent. He paid her for her work and cooperation, and replaced her, because her accent would make her role as a British aristocrat ludicrous.[4]

In 1932, she played in The Silent Witness with Weldon Heyburn, who became her first husband. They married March 30, 1932,[5] in Tijuana, Mexico.[6] On October 19, 1935, Nissen went to court to have the marriage annulled, "charging their marriage ... was illegal and violated legal witness and residence requirements."[7] The annulment was granted April 30, 1936.[8]

In 1933, she moved to England. Her film career ended in the mid-1930s after she had appeared in a few British films. In 1937 she retired from movie acting altogether.[9]

Critical acclaim

A 1925 New York Times review[10] of the silent film A Norwegian Actress described Greta:

She was graceful in her movements and expressions, with a constantly changing gaze. The actress was attractive rather than beautiful. Her chin and nose were both somewhat pronounced. Greta's personality was delightful and she never showed an awareness to the audience that she was conscious of being on camera. Her skin was fair and she possessed blonde hair. At different times her coiffure had a somewhat "wild" appearance.

The reviewer believed her hair was more effective when it was brushed down rather than when it was concealed by a small hat. As for her eyes, there was a close affinity in their appearance to those of Sarah Bernhardt. Mordaunt Hall commented on her acting, saying, "Miss Nissen gives a sincere and earnest portrayal, always obtaining excellent results with an originality rarely beheld on the screen".[11]

Hell's Angels

Greta was the original choice for leading lady in Hell's Angels (1930), an epic film made by Howard Hughes. She lost the part due to her strong Norwegian accent when the movie was remade to include sound.[12]

Later life and death

In the autumn of 1941, she married industrialist Stuart D. Eckert (1907–1993). Nissen died at home in Montecito, California of Parkinson's disease on May 15, 1988.[13] Greta was 82. Her husband said she still received fan letters. Greta had one son, Tor Bruce Nissen Eckert, who in 2005 gave his large collection of Greta Nissen Memorabilia to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum (Norsk Utvandrermuseum) which is located in Ottestad, county of Hedmark, Norway.[14][15]

Selected filmography


  1. Eugene Michael Vazzana (May 1995). Silent film necrology: births and deaths of over 9000 performers, directors, producers, and other filmmakers of the silent era, through 1993. McFarland. p. 245. Retrieved 31 July 2010.
  2. Hans J. Wollstein (1994). Strangers in Hollywood: the history of Scandinavian actors in American films from 1910 to World War II. Scarecrow Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-8108-2938-1. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  3. Barlett, Donald L. and James B. Steele. Empire: The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979. ISBN 0-393-07513-3, republished in 2004 as Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness, p. 63.
  4. Stenn, David (1993). Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow. New York: Bentam Doubleday Dell Publishing. pp. 34–38. ISBN 0-385-42157-5.
  5. "Greta Nisson to Become Bride of Hollywood Actor". Oregon, Klamath Falls. The Klamath News. March 30, 1932. p. 1. Retrieved February 5, 2016 via
  6. "Greta Nissen and Weldon Heyburn Are Honeymooning". Nebraska, Lincoln. The Lincoln Star. March 31, 1932. p. 9. Retrieved February 5, 2016 via
  7. "Greta Nissen Sues To Annul Marriage". California, Oakland. Oakland Tribune. October 20, 1935. p. 5. Retrieved February 5, 2016 via
  8. "Marriage Ends". Texas, Lubbock. Morning Avalanche. April 30, 1936. p. 2. Retrieved February 5, 2016 via
  9. Grethe Rüzt-Nissen, Danser Skuespiller (Hans-Christian Arent. Norsk biografisk leksikon)
  10. Hall, Mordaunt (1925-06-22). "The Screen, A Norwegian Actress". The New York Times. p. 10.
  11. Hall, Mordaunt (1925-06-28). "Exceptional Performance Given By Talented Young Norwegian Actress". The New York Times. p. X2.
  12. Lynn Kear; James King (June 2009). Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook. McFarland. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-7864-4363-5. Retrieved 31 July 2010.
  13. Hans J. Wollstein (1994). Strangers in Hollywood: the history of Scandinavian actors in American films from 1910 to World War II. Scarecrow Press. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-8108-2938-1. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  14. "Greta Nissen Dies; Her Beauty Graced Many Silent Movies". The Post-Standard. 1988-07-16. p. A8.
  15. Cathrine Arnesen. "Norsk Utvandrermuseum". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
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